New York City public school funding remains in limbo just a month before classes are set to resume on September 8th, as the battle over cuts to school budgets continues.
On Friday, Adams administration lawyers submitted a notice to appeal a judge’s ruling declaring the education department’s budget was voted on illegally and should be sent back to the City council. The spending plan included hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts based on declining enrollment in city schools. Laura Barbieri, a lawyer for the group of teachers and parents who sued the city arguing that the sequence of the budget vote violated state education law, said she expects a hearing on the appeal as soon as today.
City lawyers filed an initial notice to appeal Friday, soon after New York State Supreme Court Judge Lyle E. Frank ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
On Monday, Amaris Cockfield, a City Hall spokesperson, said attorneys would file the rest of the paperwork for the appeal “shortly.”
“We are taking every step possible to make sure this litigation poses no disruption to students, that educators and students have what they need, and that we have a smooth opening of our schools on September 8th,” Cockfield said in a statement.
Many parents and educators are hopeful that the court action will result in the restoration of funds for schools. But the ongoing legal process has also added to uncertainty as principals try to plan for the fall.
In his ruling, Judge Frank granted a preliminary injunction that vacates the current education budget and requires funding for schools to “revert” to last fiscal year’s levels, which were higher because they utilized a larger portion of federal stimulus funding. While the order allows officials to renegotiate the education budget, it does not require them to do so.
The appeals court could place a “stay” on Frank’s decision, which would likely allow the education department to move forward with the budget as it stands. If it does, the plaintiffs plan to appeal, Barbieri said, and litigation will continue as the first day of school approaches.
Sources in the City Council, who did not want to be named because they feared it could further compromise relations with the mayor, said they are working on next steps to restore funding to schools while they wait to see the outcome of the appeal. They said they also want the Adams administration to work with them. By statute, any official modification to the budget must be proposed by the mayor, and they claimed the mayor’s team has not been willing to negotiate a solution to the crisis outside of court since the ruling came down on Friday morning.
Adams’ office did not respond to a request for comment about its willingness to work with Council members on a resolution.
The Council is considering a full range of legal actions to take in the coming days to ensure DOE permanently restores school budgets...
Tensions between the mayor’s office and the Council appeared to grow following the ruling, as the two sought to lay blame for the school budget crisis at each other’s feet.
“It has become clearer than ever that DOE lacks transparency and accountability and removed hundreds of millions of dollars more from school budgets than it ever conveyed in the city budget,” Council speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement on Friday.
Speaker Adams has claimed that education department officials misled Council members prior to their budget vote about what impact the cuts to spending would have. According to her office, schools are facing $365 million in total cuts — well above the $215 million the mayor outlined in his budget.
Council sources have said administration officials promised no teachers would lose their jobs, that only vacant positions would be eliminated, and that all programming decisions would be left up to principals. Correspondence between Council members and education department officials that was reviewed by Gothamist supports that claim. Council members said that, if they are able to allocate additional funding, they want a clear promise from the administration that it would go directly to the schools that have seen their budgets reduced.
“The Council is considering a full range of legal actions to take in the coming days to ensure DOE permanently restores school budgets, is accountable to the public, and completely transparent about all relevant budget information and detailed accounting of the status of its remaining federal stimulus funds,” Speaker Adams said in her statement.
In response, Mayor Adams’ press secretary Fabien Levy said in a statement later on Friday that the mayor and schools chancellor “are committed to providing every available resource to our students to provide them with the best education possible, and that is what this budget does.”
Levy emphasized that the Council had ample opportunity to vet the budget when they voted for it in June, weeks ahead of the July 1 deadline.
“The funding in the budget has been clear for months and was negotiated, reviewed, and voted on by the City Council with full transparency,” he said. “And let’s be clear about the facts — this budget includes more city funding than ever before and is responsibly adjusted to address both declining enrollment and the end of federal stimulus funding, all of which is currently allocated. There is no secret pot of funding, and the City Council knows this.”
The budget passed by the City Council in June allocated $700 million in additional city funds for schools overall, but also included some of the enrollment-based cuts to individual schools. While the city’s funding contribution was higher, the overall education budget was lower because it included fewer federal stimulus dollars.
Last week, the Adams administration offered schools more flexibility in how they can use stimulus funds, saying federal “academic recovery” money could be put toward teacher salaries. The administration also said it was sending money to schools that proved they needed more to cover mandated services.
Several Brooklyn principals who spoke to Gothamist but who did not want to be named out of fear of retaliation said they have been able to patch together enough funds to make their staffing work, but have no money left for supplies.
On Monday, Marilyn Mendoza, an organizer with Make The Road New York, confronted Adams outside an event at the Queens Museum to ask him to restore funds to schools. In response Adams said, “We are going to do everything to make sure our schools are open and our children are educated, like I’ve committed my life to doing,” he said.
“Can you do one thing for me?” the mayor then asked. “Pray with me to make sure this is a safe city and make sure we do the best for our children and families.”